17Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19But during the night and an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20"Go, stand in the temple courts," he said, "and tell the people the full message of this new life." 21At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. 22But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23"We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside." 24On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this. 25Then someone came and said, "Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people."
26At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them. 27Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28"We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood."
The Sadducee's were filled with jealousy toward the apostles. They had also been jealous of the popularity of Jesus (Mat. 27:18, Mark 15:10). This time ALL the apostles were put in prison, not just Peter & John. They tried to discredit the apostles by publicly arresting them as criminals and putting them in the common prison. In referencing the word meaning for "prison", the Greek translation had several meanings. prison house, another is a place where prisoners are guarded, and another reference signifies a place where prisoners are bound.
But God sent his angel to release the apostles. A divine messenger during the night released them, perhaps the details were similar to Peter's release in chapter 12. God had a purpose for their release, it was not their personal safety, but rather that the message of salvation continued to be preached.
In obedience the apostles went directly into dangerous territory AGAIN. They went boldly to the temple at daybreak and began to teach.
I think this is somewhat humorous, as the Council gathered to decide how to put an end to the preaching about Jesus, the men they had arrested were preaching Jesus a few hundred feet away! Without realizing that fact, the Council ordered the apostles to be brought to them, the temple guards reported back to the Sanhedrin that the prison house was securely locked with the guards there, but no one was inside!!!
What do you think the reaction was on the part of the Sanhedrin? Perplexed maybe, puzzled definitely?, How did they escape? Most importantly where were they now? What would come of them? Where & when would it all end?
Word came where they were and what they were doing, just a stone's throw from where they were meeting - doing exactly what they had commanded them not to do! (4;18)
Imagine this nervous captain. The men he needed to arrest could make the lame walk, and cast out demons. Furthermore, they could escape from maximum security without any one's knowledge. In addition, the people admired them. Luke does not record the conversation of the captain to Peter, but it may have mentioned, "I need your cooperation!" Since there was no force mentioned. It was obvious the temple guards had gone to rearrest the apostles without violence, if the guards had not been afraid of the people, the apostle would have been treated harshly.
Notice when they were brought before the Council, the question never was asked "How did you escape the prison?" The high priest rebuked them for disobeying the edict delivered to Peter & John. Two charges were brought against them. 1. They were not to continue teaching in the name of Jesus. 2. The apostles were trying to hold the Council accountable for the death of Jesus. Apparently their official position was they the Romans were responsible since they actually nailed Jesus to the cross. ( Notice that the high priest hated Jesus so much that he could not bring himself to say His name: We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name.. you.. intend to bring this man's blood upon us.")